Monday, May 21, 2012

Mother Vine Lives On

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Mother Vine Lives On

A mother’s influence spreads far beyond her expectations or understanding. In the case of the Mother Vine of Roanoke Island, her tendrils have wound through 400 years of American history and botany.

Explorers Amadas and Arthur Barlowe may have been the first colonists to see what is believed to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in the nation. The huge scuppernong vine, a type of native muscadine, came to be known as the “mother vine” long ago and helped give birth to the 175-year-old wine industry of North Carolina. Many people consider the venerable plant to be a symbol of North Carolina heritage.

Local folklore tells of its fictional origin. In the story, beautiful Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, lived to adulthood and fell in love. Another suitor was jealous, and the result was the tragic death of the young maiden.

As her lover carried her back to her original home to bury her, wherever drops of her blood touched the ground, vines filled with red grapes sprouted. From the spot where she was buried, came the Mother Vine which produced a sweet fruit unlike any other.

Scuppernong, a Washington County town, is named for the many cuttings that the settlers took from the Mother Vine during the colonial period. More than twenty varieties have been cultivated which produce both red and white wines.

Always famous for its scuppernong wine, NC was listed as the number one wine producer in the 1840 Federal Census and even now ranks in the top 10. As recently as 2008, Duplin Winery began bottling The Mother Vine white table wine which is the first wine in more than 100 years to be produced from a cutting of the native vine.

Recently, resveratrol, antioxidants, and other chemicals found in the grapes have been credited with clearing arterial walls and inhibiting cancerous tumor growth, thus increasing the wine’s popularity. For teetotalers, wineries also make undistilled juices, jams and sauces from the grapes.

The agricultural world trembled when in 2010 an accidental spraying of herbicides threatened to bring an end to the old lady.

Jack Wilson, owner of half of the vine for more than 52 years, was the first to notice the browning of the plant. Experts were summoned, and after careful study, they recommended cutting back the vine severely and applying lots of water and fertilizer to stop the herbicides from spreading to the two foot wide trunk and roots.

The plan worked. After careful treatment, the Mother Vine seems to have weathered one more storm. Monitoring will continue for several years.

The vine’s green canopy, now 32 feet wide and 120 feet long is supported by a system of posts and arbors. Passersby are often gifted with clusters of grapes from the vine to enjoy.

As with all life, the Mother Vine will continue to spread her influence throughout generations who care for and admire her.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Entertaining Tenants

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Entertaining Tenants

They’re back! Our warm weather tourists from Brazil spend their days singing, swooping, and soaring through the sky above their house in our yard. Finally, they have returned to spend another season with us. We are delighted, and we take our job as purple martin landlords seriously.

Preparation for their arrival began months ago. It was determined after much research by hubby that the martin house that they lived in last year was not up to the high standards these birds deserved.

He redesigned the apartments to be larger allowing for more babies and reconstructed it so that the house could be lowered for inspection and cleaning. Finally, gourds were installed on a separate branch to give the parents additional choices for nesting.

One day, I noticed that my prized Bose radio had disappeared. It seems that purple martins can be attracted by playing recordings of martins singing their dawn song. Hubby had rigged the music to blast forth every morning at 4:00 am through the guest room window facing the martin house.

We have the Native Americans to thank for actually changing the martins’ nesting habits over thousands of years by first providing them hollowed out gourds for nesting. Previously the birds were cavity nesters using crevices such as old woodpecker nests, dead trees, cliffs, or boulders. Now, they are dependent on man to provide their housing.

Indians must have developed a special respect for these glossy, deep blue creatures with forked tails because of their beauty and their skills. Besides a passion for eating thousands of mosquitoes, beetles, flies, dragonflies and moths, they begin their bubbling chirps and trills early in the morning serving as natural alarm clocks.

They also acted like scarecrows chasing away crows from the corn patches and vultures away from the meat, which had been hung to dry. Today, they are prized for their entertainment value and their love of people.

Purple martins like their houses mounted 15 to 20 feet above the ground and 100 feet from human dwellings. They prefer broad open areas with 40-50 square feet of clearing.

Martins use mud, leaves, grass, and feathers for their nests and appreciate crumbled eggshells spread on the ground as a source of extra calcium. A supply of fresh water is also important.

One of the best sites for learning about purple martins is, which is a product of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. You can also order supplies to get yourself started in becoming a landlord for these special creatures.

If you’d like a spectacular experience with nature, drive to the William B. Umstead Memorial Bridge crossing the Croatan Sound in Dare County. Every evening from mid-June to mid-September, 100,000 martins converge on the bridge to roost. It is a breathtaking sight. The Coastal Carolina Purple Martin Society provides a site where you can find information.

Establishing a relationship with one of nature’s amazing entertainers is a priceless experience. Try it. You’ll both benefit.
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